Both sides say they are prepared to appeal in divisive case
A ruling on the constitutionality of the state’s new voter ID law is expected this week, though any decision is unlikely to quiet the storm of controversy surrounding the law as both sides have already said they’d appeal.
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson is expected to issue his ruling this week — perhaps as early as Tuesday. No ruling had been handed down at Tribune press time Monday.
Attorneys made their closing arguments in the case on August 3.
Simpson has declined to speak publicly about the case, giving no indication about how he might rule.
The suit against the law was brought by a number of organizations — including the Pennsylvania chapter of the NAACP — on behalf of 10 Pennsylvania residents who will be unable to vote under the new law. Five of the plaintiffs — Viviette Applewhite, 93; Wilola Lee, 59; Grover Freeland, 72; Gloria Cuttino, 61; and Dorothy Barksdale, 86 — are from Philadelphia. All are Black. In addition, all of them were born out of state and are unable to obtain the birth records necessary to get the Pennsylvania state identification needed to cast a ballot on Nov. 6.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs argue that voter photo ID law violates the state constitution by depriving them of the right to vote. They have asked the court to issue an injunction blocking enforcement of the law before November’s election.
The court case seems to have stirred more controversy rather than pointing toward resolution.
A recent recap of the case by the Associated Press noted that testimony during the seven-day trial demonstrated the confusion surrounding the law, even by the state officials charged with implementing it.
Before the trial, state Secretary of State Carole Aichele said that more than 758,000 people, or 9 percent of Pennsylvania voters, lacked a driver’s license or state-issued ID necessary to cast a ballot on November 6. However, in testimony during the trial, Matt Barreto, a political scientist from the University of Washington, told Simpson that his analysis reveals that 1.3 million eligible Pennsylvania voters lack such ID.
That prompted Aichele to admit that she didn’t really know how many people would be impacted by the law.
Kurt Myers, deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Transportation Department, said in his testimony that many people who come to PennDOT for a state ID lack the documents they need to get one.
Gov. Tom Corbett signed the law on March 14, requiring voters to present ID from a state-approved list of photo IDs, including a PennDOT-issued driver’s license or non-driver ID or government-issued employee ID. Even many otherwise acceptable photo IDs, such as those issued by Pennsylvania colleges and universities and the Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs, will not be accepted because they lack the required expiration dates.
The law has been controversial since it was first proposed. Critics argue that it is designed specifically to keep voter turnout low. They contend that it will disenfranchise minority, older and younger voters. Recent calculations by the Tribune showed that about 39 percent of Black voters could be disenfranchised by the law, as opposed to about 20 percent of white voters.
Pennsylvania is one of ten states to pass voter ID laws this year, prompting an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Six such laws are being challenged in the courts or by the Justice Department. The Justice Department blocked the Texas and South Carolina laws. Both are challenging the federal government’s actions in court.